While I was working for the police department, one of the most fun tasks was helping out at ERU training. A couple of times a year, I’d drive a minivan full of volunteers to the house or farm where the Emergency Response Unit (SWAT) was holding training. The officer who’d created the scenario (something like the beginning of an improv skit) would let us know what the situation was and what role we’d play.
Although I’ve been assigned roles such as Hostage, Reluctant Cult Member, Woman Hiding in Closet Unbeknownst to Guy Holding Gun in Other Room, and Dead Person, my favorite part to play was one of the “bad” guys. Give me an Airsoft rifle and let me hide in the trees, and I’m content (despite my huge and irrational fear of ticks).
I liked talking with the negotiators, too. It reminded me of writing dialogue (well, my half of the conversation, at least). When I was playing a cult member who’d started to doubt the leader’s teachings and just wanted to get out, I was sending messages back and forth with an officer who was the worst texter I’d ever met. Later, I found out that, not only did he hate texting in general, but he’d been given an older flip phone for the negotiations, so he was forced to text old-school (push the “3” button three times for “F”). Hearing this, I forgave him for all the punctuation, spelling and grammar errors that had caused me such pain (my inner editor is always there with her figurative red pen).
I managed to learn quite a bit during these events. During one training exercise, I played a militia member. My gun-toting brethren and I were given a few hours in which to set up trip wires, CS-gas grenades and pretend explosives around the property before holing up in the house for the stand-off. In Fan the Flames, the second book in the Search and Rescue series, I had Rory use some of these intruder-deterrent techniques outside of her home.
Despite it being a danger-free exercise and knowing most of the people in the ERU, there were adrenaline-filled moments. When the team entered the house and put me face down on the floor, my heart rate definitely increased. It made me really admire the officers who do this for real, those who, if negotiations fail, go into a building knowing that there are guns and/or explosives and/or people who are willing and ready to kill.
The real-life first responders I’ve met and worked with made it easy to create the characters starring in my Search and Rescue series. I have such great admiration for the cops and firefighters and those in the military and all others who run toward danger rather than away. While my current jobs are to write and bake bread, first responders risk their lives every day to help others. I can only hope that my characters fully reflect the bravery of these true-life heroes.
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